Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition. Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.
I love this book. Everything about it rings true. Kwok tells harsh truths with a gentle voice; at first with the innocence of a child and then with the careful acceptance of an adult. Stereotypes and stigmas surrounding immigrants and their hardships are scrubbed away to reveal real people.
Each character was colorful and interesting, and Kimberly herself was fully realized. I feel like I could run into her on the street. I especially loved that the romance doesn’t take anything away from Kim. Its purpose wasn’t to fix her, change her, or take away from her ambition, and it was done perfectly.
The plot was a little slow in places, but they were few and far between. Everything else was so well done and captivating, I didn’t mind. I loved this book from beginning to end and I highly recommend it.
Solar Storms by Nicholas Smith
In 2055, scientists discover something far worse than rising temperatures and rising seas—they discover massive sunspots that are producing unprecedented solar flares.
With little time to prepare for the storms, NASA recruits Drs. Sophie Winston and Emanuel Rodriguez to help monitor the solar weather. At first, the duo believes they have been hired for a routine project. But when arriving at the Johnson Space Center they quickly realize they haven’t been told everything about their mission. And as a massive storm races toward Earth, they begin to suspect that it isn’t a natural event. Millions of miles away something is feeding the storms…
Smith is writing about a nearly overdone subject - the apocalypse - and I was worried that it would simply be another variation on a theme. But Solar Storms is a breath of fresh air with a new type of apocalypse - one that hasn’t been done before. The only thing I can think of that would have made Solar Storms better is if the scientific side of things was explained a little more, and I hope it will be in ORBS.
Solar Storms has my adrenaline pumping. With only 35 pages, Smith , introduced several memorable characters, made us care deeply about their fate, and kick-started the apocalypse. Solar Storms left me with a sense of foreboding and a need to read the rest of this series right now.
Pawn by Aimee Carter (The Blackcoat Rebellion #1)
(Available December 2013)
You can be a VII - if you give up everything. For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.
If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked—surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister’s niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.
There’s only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed …and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that’s not her own, she must decide which path to choose—and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she’s only beginning to understand.
The ideas behind Pawn are the same ones behind almost every dystopian book out there, and it hasn’t got much to make it stick out. The ranking system and government is neatly explained and pretty simple, which is a point in the book’s favor, but its plot circles around itself constantly. It’s very predictable, but it doesn’t entirely lack excitement. The Harts are the perfect dastardly villains, without a shred of good in some of them. Carter succeeded in making me hate them and keeping me guessing at their true intentions. However, most of the excitement leads to a standoff almost identical to one a chapter ago. Kitty’s reaction is always the same, and always centered around her love for her boyfriend and her fear of death; she doesn’t change at all through the course of the book.
The premise of the book, while similar to a lot of others, wasn’t disappointing. The point of dystopia is to point out flaws in our own world by exaggerating them into a fictional one, and Carter hit the nail on the head there. The idea of false equality for everyone in society and the promise that hard work would lead to the life everyone deserves mirrors some of the ideas in our society, and that aspect of the book was fairly interesting.
The symbolism of the ranking system wasn’t enough to earn the book more than two stars, however. There are a lot of books with similar ideas behind them (the most similar would be Starters by Lissa Price) that are much better written, and I’d be more likely to recommend one of those.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.
But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam’s conservative Aunt Ruth soon moves in with Cam and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.
Cam keeps her secret, and no one seems to notice. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self - even if she’s not exactly sure who that is.
This book is really important. Anyone struggling with their sexuality who’s from a super-religious, old-fashioned, or homophobic family or community should read it.
Danforth put a lot on the table with Cameron Post, and she handled it all beautifully. The de-gaying school, God’s Promise, makes my stomach churn, but at the same time I understood why the people in charge had created the place, and I commend Danforth for that, for making them human, albeit misguided ones. All of the issues in Danforth’s novel were handled honestly, with no kid gloves, and she did a really good job.
Cameron, thankfully, isn’t based on the fact that she’s a lesbian. She’s someone any teenager could relate to. Cam’s a well-developed character you can’t help but care about and root for. She was the main reason the story was so compelling; I had to know what happened to her, and I got genuinely worried for her several times while I was reading.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Abandoned: Page 183
Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. The catch—and there’s always a catch—is that Blomkvist must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues.
Quite frankly, I hated this book. It’s highly praised and rated, but it wasn’t for me. I was drawn in by the adventure-hinting title and the promise of a kickass girl fighting crime. At the point where I gave up on the book, neither had been delivered. Eventually, I got too frustrated with it to continue.
The first several chapters were laden with technical details about business, finance, and corporate sabotage that were hard to follow (they referenced a lot of famous Swedes, who I did not know of) and not wholly necessary. The chapters could have been summed up in a few pages or less. I kept reading only because I hoped that the book would pick up.
It didn’t. The theme of dense, dry, and boring writing continued throughout the novel. Some of the issues I had with the writing may have been caused by the book being translated from Swedish, which it was written in. But that doesn’t account for the numerous bad transitions from Mikael’s point of view to Lisbeth’s, or for the fact that it read like a textbook. Although if you’re interested in bizarre Swedish families or corporate sabotage, you might find it interesting. Besides the unnecessary amount of details, the novel also had a lot of “product-placement.” Every time a character went shopping, the brand of practically everything was given, and when Lisbeth wanted to buy a new computer, Larsson turned into an Apple spokesperson for half a page.
The title of the book led me to believe that Lisbeth Salander was the main character, when in fact she was barely a side character and hadn’t even been connected with Blomkvist or into the main story by the time I abandoned the book. When she did appear, she was practically lifeless and had pretty much no personality. She was sold as anti-social and ruthless, but she came off as a coma patient whose body hadn’t caught up with her brain.
Out of all my problems with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, its offensiveness was probably one of the biggest. A lot of the female characters are depicted negatively, especially Lisbeth, who despite being healthy if not robust in the mental health department, was referred to quite often as “retarded.” She was also described as “anorexic” in one paragraph, but the next explained that she didn’t have an eating disorder and ate like a horse, just weighed 90 pounds anyway. The worst offense against Lisbeth was her rape, which Larsson handled awfully. Lisbeth doesn’t even react. If you’re going to write about rape, at least show how traumatizing and awful it is, don’t imply that it’s “the norm”!
If that weren’t bad enough, the original title of the book was Men Who Hate Women, which, I think, is a much more accurate description of the novel.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.
My first reaction to Daughter of Smoke and Bone is wow. The intricacy and eccentricity of its characters and back story are truly incredible. Taylor obviously put a lot of thought into her backstory and worldbuilding, and the concept of the teeth and the wishes was very well done.
Karou’s story takes place in a range of exotic settings, some outside the human world, all beautifully depicted and mysterious. Taylor’s descriptions definitely made me want to visit Prague.
One of my complaints is that a large part of the second half of the book is given over to another character, not Karou (that’s all I’ll say, so I won’t spoil anything). I got really invested in this book, but I thought the second half was almost tedious. I started to miss Karou and I wanted to get back to her. I loved Karou; she was a great protagonist and I liked that she was independent and fought for herself.
I’m really torn on the romance aspect of the book; on one hand I thought it was rushed and kind of overdone and points, but on the other it didn’t bore me and was kind of adorable.
The thing I liked the most about the book was the fact that both the Chimaera and the Seraphim could be seen as good or evil, and are actually a mix of both. Each character sees it differently, which was really cool and very thought-provoking. I also liked how subtle it was, unlike the “hope is better than wishes” lesson, which was shoved in your face.
The first half of the book was, in my opinion, much better than the second half, but I really want to read the sequel, which hopefully won’t be so split.
Note: I owe a huge thank you to all the members of the Carpe Librum Book Club for this review. They brought some of this material to my attention and I wouldn’t have been able to write such an in-depth review without their insight. Check the Book Club link for a list of members and a link to the forums!
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It’s company policy.) But they can’t quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.
Meanwhile, Lincoln O’Neill can’t believe this is his job now- reading other people’s e-mail. When he applied to be “internet security officer,” he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers- not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.
When Lincoln comes across Beth’s and Jennifer’s messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can’t help being entertained-and captivated-by their stories.
By the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late to introduce himself. What would he say … ?
Warning! Do not read this book unless you are prepared for heavy doses of adorableness!
Attachments is realistic fiction at its finest. Rowell is the master of witty banter, complicated characters, and turning the ordinary into a captivating narrative. She manages to juggle subplots without turning it into a soap opera, and keeping her pacing perfect. The book was a little bit predictable, but I didn’t mind in this instance. A few scenes read like fanfiction (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), but the rest was literary bliss for a hopeless romantic.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
Where do I even begin to express my love for this book? The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the epitome of “short but sweet.” Gaiman’s impossible tale of magic, fear, and bravery is clever and mysterious. It feels old, like a story that’s been waiting to be told, and Gaiman is the one to tell it. His mastery of the ability to make readers believe and his careful crafting of the lovable, relateable, fantastic characters make this book an instant favorite.
Read this book if you want to remember what childhood innocence is, if you want to remember why you didn't want to grow up. Read this book if you'r
City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
To save her mother’s life, Clary must travel to the City of Glass, the ancestral home of the Shadowhunters - never mind that entering the city without permission is against the Law, and breaking the Law could mean death. To make things worse, she learns that Jace does not want her there, and Simon has been thrown in prison by the Shadowhunters, who are deeply suspicious of a vampire who can withstand sunlight.
As Clary uncovers more about her family’s past, she finds an ally in mysterious Shadowhunter Sebastian. With Valentine mustering the full force of his power to destroy all Shadowhunters forever, their only chance to defeat him is to fight alongside the Downworlders.
Cassandra Clare has done it again: City of Glass is a near-knockout. Rife with tension and suspense, it kept me interested to the last page. I’m a little disappointed, however, that there weren’t as many good plot twists. I actually felt like a lot of the book was really predictable. I still enjoyed the book thoroughly, and it did keep me flipping pages. I was especially happy that the Downworlders were given a larger part in the story.
I was thrilled that we got to see Alicante, and the inner workings of the Clave. I’m still at a loss as to why no one but the villain seems interested in reforming what’s obviously a corrupt and near-useless political institution, but I was glad to learn a little more about Shadowhunter culture.
The biggest problem I had with City of Glass is that a good chunk of the book isn’t really moving the plot forward; it’s deep, heartfelt conversations between Jace and Clary that we’ve already heard a hundred times. I’ll admit, a few of them had me melting, but there were far more than needed and it got to the point that I almost didn’t want to read them. The romantic aspect of the book was also exactly what I expected it to be and tied up in perfect little bows, which was half awesome and half infuriating. In that respect, Clare’s writing reads a little like fanfiction.
City of Glass was still a pretty good read, and Clare managed to make the city of Alicante feel as real as New York. I do plan on reading the next book in the series, although City of Glass wraps things up rather nicely.
The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman
In Sunderland, England, a city quarantined by the cholera epidemic of 1831, a defiant, fifteen-year old beauty in an elegant blue dress makes her way between shadow and lamp light. A potter’s assistant by day and dress lodger by night, Gustine sells herself for necessity in a rented gown, scrimping to feed and protect her only love: her fragile baby boy.
She holds a glimmer of hope after meeting Dr. Henry Chiver, a prisoner of his own dark past. But in a world where suspicion of medicine runs rampant like a fever, these two lost souls will become irrevocably linked, as each crosses lines between rich and destitute, decorum and abandon, damnation and salvation.
This tale is masterfully told, with a clear, tender voice like no other. The dismal, disease-ridden streets, graveyards, and hovels of Sunderland will take shape around you. Holman’s prose is poetic yet disturbing, fleshing out the raw truth of 1831 Sunderland.
Holman doesn’t dance around the subjects of dress lodging, dissection, disease, and grave robbing, but rather plunges into their heart with a blunt voice. The heroine, young Gustine, will capture your interest and your heart. The wide, vivid cast of characters in The Dress Lodger riot from the pages; Holman gives the reader reason to pity, loathe, and love them by turns.
Once Upon a Time...
As a longtime lover of stories and a believer in the power and magic of books, I've spent my life seeking out the best reads. This blog is dedicated to reviewing the books I read - good, bad, or magnificent - to help other readers find their next favorite books.